July | August 2017

California Partnership Academies Target Careers


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By Mary Branham
Jerry Winthrop calls himself the “poster boy” for the California Partnership Academies.
He was expelled from high school at age 16, his father had a third-grade education and he saw little to no value in education.
Now an education programs consultant who manages the California Partnership Academies, Winthrop sees students just like him flourish in the 510 academies across the state.
“I’ve seen kids that were absolutely on the road to prison or death change their lives around completely,” he said. “Being at the academy changed their lives and gave them a view of what their future could be, as opposed to the way that it was going that they weren’t very happy with.”
The California Partnership Academies started in the mid-1980s, modeled after the Philadelphia academies that began in the 1960s. But while they’re not new, California’s academies are ever-changing to keep up with the demands in the careers they serve.
“Industry changes faster than, historically, education has changed,” said Winthrop. “So it’s necessary for us to continually update (career and technical education) standards.”
Students are enrolled in academic and career tech classes and enter the academies as a sophomore. The programs run in grades 10-12. Each academy has about 150 students, with seven or eight teacher working with those kids.
The academies originally targeted only students  who were at high risk of not graduating on time. Now, about 50 percent of students enrolled in academies are at high risk of not graduating on time, Winthrop said.
Teachers have to volunteer to work in the academies, which all have a career theme and business partners. Students must have a mentor from the business community in their junior year and the opportunity for an internship between their junior and senior year or during their senior year, Winthrop said.
The state funds the academies based on accountability measures—at least 80 percent student attendance and at least 90 percent of students must receive credit. The state funds academies based on $900 per student.
“They only get funded for students who are having success,” Winthrop said. “It behooves the programs to provide good support systems for their students and motivational activities that involve business partners.”
Districts must match state funds by providing supplemental materials, transportation, internships and enrichment activities—usually in-kind funding. Industry partners must provide matching funds through volunteer hours for mentorships, internships, sitting on advisory committees and helping to validate curricula, said Winthrop.
“It allows for a tripling of the amount of money that comes into the academy,” said Winthrop.
California offers programs in all 15 industry sectors in the state, with arts, media and entertainment, multimedia and health care fields among the fastest-growing segments, according to Winthrop.
The academic classes students take are geared toward their career goals. Winthrop, for instance, led an environmental science academy for 11 years before coming to the California Department of Education. He changed the books he was teaching so that it fed into his students’ knowledge of the career theme. He worked closely with other teachers so academic classes related to what the students were learning in their career classes.
“Once students see a clear connection between their academic subjects and the careers they plan for in the future, they tend to take those subjects more seriously,” Winthrop said.
Winthrop said several studies have shown the best education is achieved by combining the academic with the career technical education, as opposed to making students choose one or the other.
Separating the academic from the career classes, he said, “gives the kids a completely erroneous perception of what it is they are learning. They think their career tech classes and learning is something that is actually going to be related to their life after high school and that’s disconnected to their academic classes, which they don’t understand what they’re doing in them at all.”
On the other hand, integrating the classes shows the importance of all that they’re learning.
“You can show that when you have your (career and technical) and academic teachers working together in harmony and showing students their research and writing and mathematics are integral parts of the skills that are going to allow them to be successful in their future,” he said.
It seems to work. California required annual reporting and data collection from all funded academies when it initiated the program 20 years ago. It found that 95 percent of academy students graduate on time, well above the state average.
Academies are particularly successful in getting students of color—particularly Latino and African-American males—to graduate on time, he said.
While the state education department doesn’t track students after graduation, MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan social policy research organization in New York City, issued a report on academies largely focusing on the California Partnership Academies. That study found the graduates earned considerably more money in the years after graduation, attend college at a greater rate and met the California academic requirements at a greater rate than the state at large.
In addition, Winthrop said, they tend to have more stable home lives and fewer academy graduates live with their parents five years after graduation. More of them have stable relationships and are holding steady jobs in the years after graduation than the student body at large, he said.
Academies work best when they address all aspects of an industry and don’t put students into chutes based on what teachers might expect from them, Winthrop said.
“The best programs give a student a chance to see all aspects of what the industry are,” said Winthrop.
And, he said, the programs work best when they work from the ground up rather than the top down. In California, teachers maintain a certain amount of sovereignty over their programs. They set policy and have a great deal of say in how academy funds are spent.